Institute of Catholic Culture Educates the People in the Pews

Lectures, in person and online, inform the faithful

Father Hezekias Carnazzo of Holy Transfiguration Church, a Melkite Greek Catholic church in McLean, Virginia, gives a lecture.
Father Hezekias Carnazzo of Holy Transfiguration Church, a Melkite Greek Catholic church in McLean, Virginia, gives a lecture. (photo: Courtesy of Institute of Catholic Culture)

Inspired by his devotion to Christ, Sabatino Carnazzo responded to the Church’s call for a “New Evangelization.”

He proposed in 2006 an adult faith-formation class as a program to Father Franklyn McAfee, then-pastor of St. John the Beloved Roman Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia. Carnazzo believed that far too many Catholics thought that practicing their faith just meant going to Mass on Sundays. Though Mass attendance is mandatory to be a Catholic in good standing, unless adults learn the basis of Catholicism, they cannot understand its history and its glories, Carnazzo believed.

What started as a series of small, weekly classes grew exponentially. Within two years, Carnazzo took this idea — now called the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC) — out to community parishes in the Arlington Diocese in Virginia. In 2009, Carnazzo and the institute’s newly established board of directors registered the institute as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization at service to the Catholic Church in the work of evangelization. Educational programs on such topics as salvation history and the sacraments of the Church began attracting crowds numbering more than 100 attendees.

Soon, volunteers at the institute started taping the programs and then livestreamed them via the website Building an audio and then a video library was really a turning point for the institute’s growth. (The institute staff also records the talks on CDs, available for program attendees at a minimal cost.)

Seven years later, Sabatino Carnazzo — now Father Hezekias Carnazzo of Holy Transfiguration Church, a Melkite Greek Catholic church in McLean, Virginia — oversees a teaching program that features regular dinner events with Catholic speakers; educational webinars programmed in the northern Virginia area; and online classes using webinar techniques. He has also established special programs, such as the “Sophia Symposium” of webinars that focus on specific topics. And he started a program called the “Magdala Apostolate” that teaches women religious and novices sound doctrinal formation. All events and talks are free of charge.

“Really, there have been a number of stages in which the institute has grown to serve as many people as possible,” said the Eastern-rite priest and Christendom College alumnus. To tap into modern technology, Father Carnazzo and his board of directors began a development campaign in 2016 to grow the institute into a national and an international organization. Webinar technology and web conferencing has allowed the institute to explore new ways of evangelizing, he said. “We can now bring great Catholic teachers who are 100% faithful to an international audience and do it in the most financially responsible way, using the model of Jesus Christ,” he explained. Take, for example, how an online webinar can attract people globally.

The recent New Testament webinar class taught students from Thailand, the Philippines, Trinidad and Ukraine, in addition to many stateside students who logged on to the lectures.

Fredericka Wall, a parishioner at St. John the Beloved, enjoys learning via ICC: “I love the variety of topics that are offered: Church history, spirituality and theology. The speakers are outstanding in their fields.”

Fellow St. John the Beloved parishioner Catherine Taylor has also benefited.

“An advertisement in the parish newsletter brought me to my first Institute of Catholic Culture talk — a Bible study. The event was held in a small former classroom at St. John the Beloved Church. I was won over immediately. It was not long after that the room could hold no more chairs, and the overflow attendees sat in the hallway unable to see the lecturer,” she recounted. “It was obvious that many were so very hungry to learn more about our one, true Catholic faith. Sacred Scripture, ethics, history — medieval and Renaissance, literature, culture and the modern world — the long list of Church-related topics is amazing. Of course, today, these most valuable presentations are available online in real time or via an archived library, but the great fellowship experienced in person is just outstanding.”

An interest in truth-centered learning has spread throughout the diocese.

“In October 2009, when I attended my first ICC lecture, I quickly realized that I had finally found the path toward what I had long been aching for: the Truth, as revealed not only by a deepened understanding of sacred Scripture, but also through study of theology, liturgy, music, history, philosophy, the lives of the saints and even the thought of ancients like Pythagoras and Aristotle — and all at no charge,” recalled Sharon Fernandes, a parishioner at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia. “Over the past eight years, I have attended countless ICC lectures and cultural events, made many joyful, faith-filled friends, and been incredibly blessed to participate as an ICC volunteer, supporter and Holy Land pilgrim. The ICC is a pilgrimage that never ends.”

The curriculum has also bolstered the faith of “reverts” like Pat Wilder, a parishioner at St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

“As a revert to the Catholic Church, I began attending classes at the ICC in 2010. The first thing that attracted me to the institute was the obvious unabashed love and enthusiasm for the traditional teachings of the Church by its director, now-Father Carnazzo. Through the excellent lecturers, many of whom are from Christendom College, I learned about history, philosophy, theology and Scripture through the lens of a faithful Catholic worldview. Moreover, during the summer of 2015, I was privileged to go on a pilgrimage to Israel with the institute, which turned out to be a life-changing experience for me.”

Priests see the good work of the apostolate, as well.

“The ICC is what we might call a full-service apostolate. It provides excellent teaching, as well as opportunities to encounter the beauty of the Church’s liturgy and sacred art. In the course of all this, the ICC builds up little communities of faith where people can grow in charity and service,” said Father Paul Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy for the Diocese of Arlington.

Presenters also have been impacted by their participation.

“The ICC has had a significant role in deepening people’s faith, especially here in the Arlington Diocese, through promoting a deeper understanding of both faith and reason,” explained John Cuddeback, a professor of philosophy at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. “The ICC audiences consistently include people from all backgrounds, united by their desire to grow in knowledge and love of God.”

“ICC is on the leading edge of using technology and the internet for the good of the Church in the age of the New Evangelization,” said Steven Smith, associate professor of sacred Scripture at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. “Whether a seminar is ‘in-person’ in the Arlington/D.C. area, or streamed online, the hospitality and welcoming, the faithfulness and orthodoxy, and Catholic fellowship is always deeply felt.”

“Speaking at ICC is like coming home again,” related Robert Reilly, director of the Westminster Institute in McLean. “It is a powerful community of faith and reason.”

Whether attendees are near or far, modern technology clearly has revolutionized the institute’s ability to contact and connect with Catholics everywhere. “But the Church is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow,” Father Carnazzo emphasized. “The Church is called to use modern forms of communication in a similar way that the early Church used the Roman road systems to spread the Gospel. The new media offers us modern venues by which we can bring the Gospel to the world.” 

As Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers, has said, “The institute is giving the faith to people in all its glory, tragedy and beauty. Father Hezekias is making it possible for people to love their faith.”

And the institute’s future? That, said its founder, is totally in God’s hands.

Alexandra Greeley writes from northern Virginia.


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